Feb 112015
 

Bottle Talk with Rick & Paul

TTB Contributor Paul Wagner recently launched a radio talk show about wine with long-time writer and broadcaster Rick Kushman.  “Bottle Talk with Rick and Paul,” is a cheeky, irreverent show that makes wine fun for everyone. The show seeks to level the tasting bar for would-be wine enthusiasts everywhere.

“Wine shouldn’t make you feel as if you’re being tested to join a secret Skull & Bones Society,” says Kushman. “People who make wine too snooty should be sentenced to drinking boxed prune juice.”

Each week, the duo is joined by some of the top names in the world of wine. The streaming radio show aims to break new ground in conversations about wine and includes questions from listeners, interviews, wine recommendations, and an all-out assault on wine snobs everywhere.

Kushman is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Barefoot Spirit, the story of the founding and unique marketing of Barefoot Cellars.  He is an award-wining journalist and the wine commentator for Capital Public Radio, Sacramento’s NPR affiliate, as well as a regular guest host for the station’s highest profile show, “Insight.”

Wagner, an industry veteran, teaches wine courses at Napa Valley College and the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  With Liz Thach and Janeen Olsen, he authored the book, Wine Marketing & Sales, Strategies for a Saturated Market, which won the Gourmand International Award for the best wine book of the year for professionals.

Among their guests are Warren Winiarski, whose 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon won the great Paris tasting of 1976 against top French Chateaux; Traci Dutton, Sommelier at the Culinary Institute of America; Master Sommeliers James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks of TEXSOM and the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, and Ricardo Riccicurbastro, the President of the Federation of DOCs in Italy.

“Bottle Talk with Rick & Paul” airs a new show every Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific time on 1440 KVON Radio in Napa Valley and at http://www.rickandpaulwine.com/.  Prior shows are available on the site, as is information about sponsorship.

Jan 162015
 
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Photo (c) Tracy Ellen Kamens

Although wine has been produced within Umbria for centuries, its reputation for high quality wine didn’t develop until more recently. Specifically, the region owes much of its current popularity to Wine Enthusiast magazine’s 2012 European Winery of the Year: Arnaldo Caprai. In 1971, Arnaldo Caprai, founder of one of Italy’s leading textile companies, purchased an estate in the region and planted Sagrantino, a minor grape variety at the time, but indigenous to the area. The grape was most commonly associated with its use by the Franciscan monks who crafted a sweet wine for use in religious observance.

With an ambitious aim, Arnaldo set out to make a historic wine with the production of a dry Sagrantino, but his first trials weren’t very good. When Arnaldo’s son, Marco, joined the winery as manager in 1988, he began to work with the University of Milan – a partnership that still continues to this day. This project focused on the need to truly understand the Sagrantino grape, particularly its structure and tannins. After 15 years of intensive study of the grape’s genetics, they were able to identify the three best clones, which they then patented and planted. Ultimately, producing high quality Sagrantino dry wines and fulfilling Arnaldo’s dream.

Currently, Arnaldo Caprai has 136 planted hectares planted to vines of which 40 hectares are dedicated to Sagrantino, planted on the best sites, especially hill tops. Sangiovese, Cannaiolo and other grapes fill out the remaining acreage. A specially designated vineyard is planted to 20 different varieties from which the best grapes are selected each vintage and then made into the winery’s Cuvée Secrete, first produced in 2012.

Among the winery’s viticultural endeavors has been its emphasis on sustainability. In 2008, Arnaldo Caprai launched its Sustainability Project, Montefalco 2015: The New Green Revolution. Eschewing the limited nature of organic viticulture, instead, the adopted protocols are evaluated for their collective social, political and environmental impact before they are implemented. In this regard, an agricultural machine was adapted to capture the chemicals used to protect the vines from mildew, and recycle them, thereby ensuring that the spray is used solely on the leaves and not dripping down into the soil. Further, while machine harvesting might be a reasonable option, the winery has chosen to continue to hand harvest its grapes to preserve employment opportunities for local workers.

Given the family’s textile connection, their textile and viticultural endeavors have been woven together. In 1992, Arnaldo Caprai Gruppo Tessile was joined by the creation of Cruciani by Luca Caprai. This new company focuses on cashmere and lace, most recently launching a subsidiary line Cruciani C in 2011. Specializing in crocheted bracelets, made of macramé lace, the concept of Cruciani C is to bring lace to a modern (and younger) audience. These multi-colored bracelets have become quite popular and the company has capitalized on this trend to raise money for various causes. A bracelet sporting a heart and grapes was designed to support Montefalco’s museum and the return of a letter, which documents Benozzo Gozzoli (fresco painter)’s love for Montefalco. Also, a bracelet with green circles acknowkedges Caprai’s commitment to the environment and its Sustainability Project, Montefalco 2015: The New Green Revolution.

Jun 092014
 

Ian Cauble MS

Master Sommelier Ian Cauble has a new project. For those unfamiliar with Ian, he was one of a handful of individuals featured in SOMM, a documentary film about candidates who attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world. In fact, there are only 211 professionals worldwide who have received the title of Master Sommelier since the first Master Sommelier Diploma Exam in 1969. Ian is one of those. He recently launched a new web site called SommSelect.

Ian started the site with co-founder Brandon Carneiro, whom he had met while they were both undergrads. Both had ended up with careers in wine. A few months ago, they launched SommSelect as a way to give consumers access to sommelier-selected wines. Still in Beta, SommSelect has new wines featured daily that are limited production and only for the early members of SommSelect to purchase. They state that the site is not about featuring the most affordable wines, but rather offering the best wines at an affordable price that have been tried and tested and now recommended by one of the world’s leading authorities on wine.  Ian also plans to occasionally offer more spendy offerings when warranted.

“We connected last year after Ian had been in the movie, mainly because I had seen a void in the market for a site like this,” says Brandon. “Something where people could see a daily curated wine from an expert Master Somm and buy wine.  We didn’t want to discount the wines like a flash site, but simply offer one great curated wine each day.  I told Ian about the idea and he liked it.  The rest is history.  We decided to work together and then started putting the project together.”

While SommSelect is still technically in beta, wine enthusiasts may still sign up to receive offers and purchase the daily feature. While there are similar kinds of sites, this is the first I’ve seen to really leverage a top wine personality who mostly knows what he’s talking about. The wines are not selected by some anonymous buyer who is looking for the best deal he can offer, but by an expert.

“These are wine selections I believe are the best from a specific grape varietal, region and price-point,” says Ian. “We offer wines from all price points from about $12 to $100s of dollars and we offer free shipping on purchases at about $100. There are other sites out there that offer daily wine selections, but our approach is focused on small production wines that I truly believe are the best of class. I don’t believe there are any other Master Sommeliers offering curated wine selection on the internet so we are a bit unique.”

You can sign up to receive emails about their daily offerings.

 

Feb 042014
 

Wine Reviews DroningRecently I was listening to Michael Krasny interview wine importer extraordinaire Kermit Lynch on the local Bay Area NPR radio affiliate. At the end of the interview Kermit took calls from listeners and one of the callers complained bitterly about wine reviews and how they describe wines in florid detail using terms that, according the caller, were complete nonsense. Kermit soft-pedaled his answer saying that yes, writers can sometimes go off the rails when describing wine and that yes, everyone’s palate is different so you can’t expect to agree on everything you read in wine reviews. But Lynch’s response made me pause because I’ve heard this complaint all too often; that wine descriptions are in some form or other nonsense and that wine writers frankly make things up. So I’d like to address this personally, even ecumenically, if you will.

Odds are wine writers as much as you may want to believe it are not making things up. Sure there may be the odd hallucination now and again but usually they’re simply trying to tell you what wine X, Y or Z smells and tastes like to them. Emphasis on THEM. Beyond that we often hear the phrase “everybody’s different” when it comes to wine and that is correct across the board. Here’s how we’re different. In short, here’s the deal:

We all have the same hardware in the form of our brain and neurology. But after that all bets are off. What’s different? Simple answer: everyone’s memories. So your take on Meyer Lemon is going to be different than my mine because my experience in the form of my internal pictures, movies, sounds and feelings associated with Meyer Lemon throughout my lifetime is unique and not yours. And while we may agree that there’s something sour and citrus-like in the wine we’re sharing we’re never going to share an identical experience collectively known as Meyer Lemon. You may think it smells more like pink grape fruit or a catcher’s mitt or a freshly painted garage door for that matter. Further, the wonderful bouquet of flowers I adore in a glass of glorious Grand Cru Alsace Gewurztraminer may utterly repel you because it’s entirely too close to that memory of your tragic drive-by at a Macy’s perfume counter at some point in the distant past. Personal likes and dislikes are important and those are based on memory too.

Context is also important. The how’s, who’s, why’s and when’s you taste/drink a wine collectively form the trump card in any wine experience. That magic bottle of whatever you enjoyed when your boyfriend proposed will forever be your favorite wine in the whole entire universe and just the mere thought of it will send you around the moon and back to that magic moment–until the divorce. Then it becomes the most cursed s#@*&% bottle of wine in the history of mankind. Yes, friends, context is important. Remember that.

Remember also that wine tasting is marginally about actually tasting. It’s primarily about SMELLING as smell accounts for over 85% of the sense of taste. So if you’re passing by the nose on your evening goblet of Cabernet going right in for the big slurp the proverbial cow is already out of the barn. In fact, the cow is so far out of the barn that it took your car to SFO and is now headed to Fiji. On your credit card. Moo.

That is to say olfactory memory is the most powerful form of memory we have because aromas from the glass or any other source go right up our nasal passages directly into the cerebral cortex. That means when such-and-such wine writer rambles on about how the pepper and herbal notes in a Chateauneuf-du-Pape remind him of the cassoulet his grandmother used to make when he was a kid during the holidays, guess what? It probably does and that means you shouldn’t wig out over said writer’s musings but should instead try to get to your own memories of pepper and savory herbs to better understand what the writer is trying to express about the wine. Hopefully the next time you taste the same wine or a similar wine you might experience them too unless, of course, you find something completely different. Because after all, it’s what the wines smells and tastes like to you that actually counts.

As for the sense of smell, we as a culture generally suck at olfactory memory. It’s not important to us so we don’t practice it and we’re not very good at it. Other than a smack-me-on-the-side-of-the-head tsunami of cow pasture, raw garlic or did somebody left the burner the gas stove on, we’re generally not tuned into the olfactory world. But there are definitely exceptions and those individuals usually tend to be in the perfume, wine and spirits worlds or other professions where one’s expertise is largely determined by smell memory. It’s not surprising then that when someone with a highly developed olfactory memory writes about their subject in depth it’s viewed with great suspicion.

It’s easily understandable then how the poetic meanderings/descriptions of wine writing can leave one puzzled, forlorn and even verklempt. This because wine has no inherent vocabulary leaving us wine professionals to borrow, often tragically, nomenclature from completely unrelated fields. Adjectives such as “murky,” “bold,” “dense,” and even something comical like “explosive” find their way into wine descriptions not to mention any number of fruits, herbs and spices (Road tar is among my favorites). But when you read that tasting a rare old vintage made some famous wine writer start weeping you should definitely have serious misgivings. I would.

Know that wine professionals taste a lot of wine as in potentially thousands of bottles a year. If someone is tasting that much, odds are they’re pretty good at it and they should also be proficient at communicating about it in a meaningful way even if they are limited to nomenclature that may seem like Martian to the novice. Keep in mind that this is tasting and not drinking. A professional tasting may sound like fun to you but it’s hard work requiring a hell of a lot of focus, concentration and inevitable palate fatigue. Still think it sounds fun? Imagine tasting 45 different coffees in 90 minutes, taking notes and then writing about the qualities of each one. I rest my case.

Finally, if the florid wine descriptions still give you agita consider giving wine writers a break. Even with the zillions of wine blogs and everyone pretending to be a wine expert these days there are more good writers than ever. Find one whose prose you can live with—even like—and follow them. Chances are their likes and dislikes are similar to yours. But above all remember that your palate—and what you like to drink—is the bottom line. Because after all, I made all this up.

Just kidding.

Jan 032014
 
Wine and politics: how do we vote?

Graphic courtesy Jennifer Dube, National Media Research Planning and Placement LLC

According to a recent study reported on by the Washington Post, what you drink can be an indication of how you vote. The research comes from consumer data supplied by GfK MRI, and analyzed by Jennifer Dube of National Media Research Planning and Placement, an Alexandria-based Republican consulting firm. Wine and politics… now we know what’s really important.

It seems that wine drinkers turn out in greater numbers than spirits drinkers overall. “Analyzing voting habits of those who imbibe, Dube found that 14 of the top 15 brands that indicate someone is most likely to vote are wines,” states the article. In addition, the BRAND of wine you drink may indicate your political leanings. As you can see from the chart above, those that drink Kendall-Jackson and Robert Mondavi skew Republican and those that consumer Chateau Ste. Michelle and Smoking Loon.

In fact, Smoking Loon drinkers are off the chart in terms of voter turnout for DEMOCRATS. The ultimate irony is that this particular brand is made by Sonoma-based Don Sebastiani & Sons, and Don Sebastiani himself served three terms in the California Legislature as a conservative REPUBLICAN. Go figure.